Archive for September, 2010


5th or 6th Century AD Greek Manuscript of The Iliad


Moving on now to Homer: The Iliad and The Odyssey. These stories are not only a hugely important part of the Greek identity: for more than three thousand years, artists from Dante to William Shakespeare to Led Zeppelin have drawn on the characters and themes laid out in Homer’s treatment of the Trojan War and its aftermath. They are perhaps the first great achievement of Western culture we’re aware of.


But we don’t know who Homer was, and we may never know. There’s an old joke that says the Iliad and the Odyssey weren’t written by Homer, but by another man of the same name. (I never said it was a good joke.)¬†There is an entire branch of scholarship dealing with what’s called The Homeric Question, wherein lots of clever people sift through the evidence to try to figure out:

  • If Homer existed
  • Whether “he” was a single historical figure or a group of poets
  • When and how the epics attributed to Homer were composed

From what I can tell, based on about a week of reading superficially, here is what we know:



Read Full Post »

We are about to get into the Ancient Greeks, so I’ve been looking for good commentary and historical works. So far I’ve been working with Bertrand Russell’s A History of Western Philosophy.

If you want to have a good basic overview of western civilization, you could pretty much get there with this one book. For the general reader who didn’t have a western civ course during college (or didn’t go to college at all), this book helps you understand historical contexts of different ideas in ancient philosophy and gives a more cursory, but still valuable, sketch of modern philosophy. ¬†Now and then it’s even funny.

Marks against it: it was written during WWII, so some of the historical research will be out of date. Russell’s personality is very deeply stamped on it; it bears his own biases (particularly as regards the Catholic Church. Spoiler: he was not a fan).

Marks in favor: it’s written by a genius with a rare gift for clear, simple writing. He was also a mathematician, so mathematical and logical ideas expressed in the philosophies are illuminated in a way that shouldn’t intimidate those with a maths phobia. And Bertrand Russell was a naughty guy who looked exactly like the Mad Hatter in his old age.

If you know a better guide to philosophy that also takes history into account, let me know.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: